MENTAL HEALTH ∙ 4 minute read

How to talk about mental health with your friends

By Ashton Sheriff | Medically reviewed by Dr Jaskirt Matharu

Talking about your mental health can be daunting. It takes a lot of courage to open up about your innermost feelings (even to your friends) and it can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed when you do it. But if you're going through a tough time, then it's important that you talk about what’s on your mind. Doing so may help to prevent any negative thoughts you might have from spiralling out of control. 

However, not everyone has the luxury of having friends they can turn to in times of hardship. If this is the case for you, then you can try opening up to family members, a therapist, or a volunteer at the Samaritans (a free UK-based mental health support line for people who need to talk to someone anonymous about the things on their mind). 

If you do have friends you can talk to about your mental health, however, then here’s how you can go about doing so.

Be honest 

Being honest and admitting everything is “not alright” is the first step to recovery. Be honest with yourself and with the person you are talking to. Tell them how you're feeling and why you are feeling the way you are. If you don’t know why you're feeling the way you are, then don’t worry: simply telling a friend how you are feeling can help you feel considerably better. Opening up in this way may even help you to figure out why you are feeling low, and this can assist in preventing the thoughts and patterns of behaviour that make you feel that way.

Talk to someone you trust

Talking to someone you trust can help you to open up and be more honest about the way you’re feeling. It will also allow you to be more receptive to any advice they give. 

Ask for help if you need it

Support from friends can go a long way. If you feel like you need help, or if you need to get things off your chest, ask your friends if they can lend you an ear when you need it. If you are feeling particularly depressed or anxious and think you’d benefit from professional help (in the form of a therapist) then don’t be afraid to ask for that either. You can ask a friend or family member to book an appointment with a therapist if you find it too intimidating to do it yourself. 

Treat the symptoms of poor mental health 

Mental health issues can manifest themselves in unexpected ways. For example, the symptoms of depression may include insomnia (not being able to sleep), trouble remembering things, and even erectile dysfunction in men (caused by a loss of libido). Likewise, those with anxiety may also experience fatigue, digestion issues, and the urge to avoid things that trigger their anxiety (like social interactions and relationships). 

Therefore it's important to talk to your friends about any symptoms you are experiencing so that you can treat them. Some symptoms – like erectile dysfunction – may be difficult for men to open up about. Although the symptoms are easily treated with medication like sildenafil or tadalafil, many men keep their erectile problems bottled up – which can exacerbate existing feelings of anxiety and depression. 

Since some of the symptoms of poor mental health can be difficult to talk about, it’s important to talk to someone you trust. It's also advisable to talk to a health professional if the symptoms of poor mental health are having an impact on your day-to-day life. It’s daunting, but doctors and therapists have heard it all before, so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed to tell them. 

If you're not affected by any mental health issues but know someone who is, then below are a few helpful things to remember when talking to them.

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Be understanding – and listen

If a friend has confided in you about the mental health problems they’re experiencing, then chances are it took them a lot of courage to do so. Simply listening to their problems in a non-judgmental, understanding way is likely to help them open up. It can also help you both to identify the cause/s of the problem, so they can get the treatment they need (whether that be talking therapy or another mental health treatment). 

Avoid saying things like “cheer up”

If you've never experienced a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, you may find it hard to understand just how debilitating these conditions can be. Therefore, if a friend is going through one of these conditions, it may be tempting to say “just cheer up” or “stop worrying”. 

However, it's extremely difficult for a person with depression to simply “cheer up”, or a person with anxiety to “stop worrying”. Saying these things sounds dismissive and may cause them to feel too uncomfortable to open up again. Instead, listen to their problems and sincerely offer your support.

The numan take

Opening up about your mental health can be nerve-wracking. But talking about it with your friends or someone you trust can help you to deal with whatever is on your mind with greater ease. It'll also increase their mental health awareness so that it's easier for them to spot when you're not feeling yourself in the future.

When talking about your mental health with someone you trust, try your best to be honest with them so they can understand where you're coming from. This will put them in a much better position to see things from your perspective, offer helpful advice, or even recommend helpful mental health treatments (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy) that may benefit you.

On the other hand, if someone you know wants to talk about their mental health, you should listen to them with an understanding, non-judgemental ear. Hear them out and try not to dismiss their feelings. You don't need to say anything profound in response or give the world's best advice. Simply listening to them will help them to get things off their chest so that they can begin to feel better.

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